NBC would not comment on the status of the untitled project, but few believe that it has a chance of moving forward in light of new statements by two women who claim they were sexually assaulted by Cosby decades ago. Cosby’s lawyer has denied the claim, calling them “discredited allegations.”
With that denial and no legal charges pending against Cosby, the situation presents a judgment-call dilemma for NBC. The comedian has long been associated with the network, and was a cornerstone of its success in the 1980s with his domestic comedy “The Cosby Show.”
But given the disturbing nature of the allegations, it’s nearly impossible to imagine the network producing and marketing a show featuring the 77-year-old comedian’s trademark avuncular humor.
Netflix is scheduled to release an hourlong Cosby comedy special, “Bill Cosby 77,” on Nov. 28. There was no indication from Netflix of any change in that plan, as of Monday.
The circumstances are also precarious for producer Tom Werner, who also has a long association with Cosby and is on board to exec produce the NBC comedy. The success of “The Cosby Show” built the Carsey-Werner Co. into an independent TV production powerhouse in the 1980s and ’90s. Werner and his former partner, Marcy Carsey, were exec producers of “The Cosby Show” as well as the CBS sitcom, “Cosby,” which Cosby toplined from 1996-2000.
NBC cut a rich deal with Cosby earlier this year that calls for the network to pay him a penalty if the proposed sitcom does not go to pilot. In a sign of the clout that Cosby still wielded, under the deal orchestrated by his reps at CAA, it’s understood that the penalty fee is to be paid to Cosby rather than the studio developing the script, which is Sony Pictures TV. Writers Mike O’Malley and Mike Sikowitz were tapped to write a domestic vehicle for the comedian. The studio is not believed to have delivered a finished draft script to the network yet.
Cosby has been in the public eye in recent months, making the talk show rounds and doing live comedy dates. He performed Sunday night in Erie, Pa. But as the controversy ballooned last week, Cosby canceled a scheduled appearance this week on “Late Show with David Letterman.”
Although allegations of untoward sexual behavior have dogged the comedian for years, the PR crisis for Cosby accelerated when the Washington Post published a column Thursday by an Arizona woman, Barbara Bowman, who accused Cosby of drugging and raping her multiple times when she was an aspiring actress in 1985, during the height of “Cosby Show’s” run.
On Sunday, another woman, Joan Tarshis, a former actress and music industry publicist, made similar accusations in a lengthy statement posted on the Hollywood Elsewhere blog. Tarshis claimed she was drugged and assaulted by the comedian in 1969 when she was an aspiring actress and writer. Tarshis was also scheduled to appear on Monday’s edition of syndicated newsmagazine “Inside Edition,” calling Cosby a “serial rapist” and a “very, very, very sick man,” according to an interview transcript provided by the show.
Cosby previously faced sexual assault allegations in a 2005 civil suit filed by Andrea Constand, a former employee of Temple University, Cosby’s alma mater. That suit was settled out of court in 2006. The strictness of the confidentiality agreement on that settlement was reinforced Monday. After Cosby attorney John P. Schmitt posted a statement on the comedian’s website Sunday denying the rape allegations raised by Bowman, a new statement appeared on the site Monday that was attributed to Schmitt and Constand’s attorney, Dolores Troiani.
“The statement released by Mr. Cosby’s attorney over the weekend was not intended to refer in any way to Andrea Constand. As previously reported, differences between Mr. Cosby and Ms. Constand were resolved to the mutual satisfaction of Mr. Cosby and Ms. Constand years ago. Neither Mr. Cosby nor Ms. Constand intends to comment further on the matter.”